Cars make their way toward downtown Los Angeles during the morning commute on April 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

The Biden administration is working to restore California’s authority to set its own rules on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, vans and SUVs, a move that rolls back a Trump-era decision and puts California at the forefront of fighting climate change in the United States.

The decision re-waives the Clean Air Act that would allow California to adopt fuel economy standards that are stronger than those of the federal government and set a precedent for the rest of the country on how to mitigate vehicle emissions. The former state’s ability to control vehicle emissions has led to some innovative strategies in the auto industry, such as catalytic converters, which convert toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas into less toxic pollutants, as well as “check engine” lights.

The transportation sector is a major source of greenhouse gases in the United States, and accounts for 29% of the country’s emissions. California, the country’s most populous state, is home to a slew of busy highways that spew carbon pollution into the atmosphere and create smog-filled skies over cities like Los Angeles.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most stringent California standards. The California Air Resources Board will determine how to enforce it.

Under the Clean Air Act, the state has the power to get permission from the federal government to set its own rules on exhaust pipe standards that help reduce emissions from gas-powered vehicles. California established the nation’s first exhaust pipe emission standards in 1966.

The Trump administration in 2019 rescinded California’s authority to regulate air quality, arguing that it would not allow “one country’s political agendas” to set national policy. This decision was part of a broader rollback of Obama-era vehicle emissions standards and climate change regulations.

“Today we proudly reaffirm California’s longstanding authority to lead in addressing pollution from cars and trucks,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Reagan said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our partnership with nations to tackle the climate crisis has never been more important.”

“With today’s action, we are re-working the approach that has helped for years advance clean technologies and reduce air pollution for people not just in California, but for the United States as a whole,” Reagan said.

“When you clear a traffic jam, the first thing you do is take your foot off the brake,” the senator said. Tom Carper, D-Dell. He is also the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “That’s exactly what the Biden administration is doing by bringing back California’s longstanding authority under the Clean Air Act to set exhaust pipe standards.”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Balloni said in a statement that the Biden administration’s decision reflected one of the “most absurd and indefensible actions.”

“Today’s action is a win-win because the waiver helps states improve air quality for communities across the country, spurs American innovation in clean car technology, and ensures consumers have access to the most advanced and efficient vehicles possible,” Balloni said.

The Biden administration’s decision will also help California move toward its goal of phasing out all new gas-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035.

Government. Gavin Newsom announced the pledge in 2020, saying it would reduce the state’s emissions by 35%. California also has rules that require a certain percentage of new car sales to be electric or zero-emissions.

“I thank the Biden administration for correcting the Trump administration’s reckless mistakes and for recognizing our decades-old authority to protect Californians and our planet,” Newsom said in a statement.

The decision “also comes at a pivotal moment that underscores the need to end our dependence on fossil fuels,” Newsom said.

Environmental groups on Wednesday highly praised the EPA’s decision to re-waive the Clean Air Act.

Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Trump’s reversal was based on a “very misunderstanding of the law and impeded states’ ability to take important steps toward reducing carbon emissions.”

“Bringing the exemption back into action today is an important milestone in the fight to maintain important environmental regulations that the Trump administration has repealed,” Robinson said.

Luke Tonachel, director of vehicles and clean fuels for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said states have led the movement to clean up exhaust pipe pollution and move the country toward cleaner cars.

“While the previous administration attempted to undermine this authority, the law clearly gives California and other states the ability to adopt standards to reduce pollution that affects the health of their citizens,” Tonachel said. “Reasserting this legal authority will protect public health and help address the climate crisis.”